Princess Monica

Why the Starr Report and the Tripp tapes make Jewish women cringe.

By Lori Leibovich
October 6, 1998 1:38PM (UTC)
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I've spent my whole adult life running from that label, the one bequeathed me in adolescence just because I wore designer jeans and hung out with very rich girls, had strong opinions and voiced them, was overeducated and well-traveled. And just because I was all those things and I was Jewish. To this day, I'd rather be called any number of four-letter words than "JAP," that biting, sarcastic, pejorative acronym for "Jewish American Princess." It took me years to shake it off, years to sever its insidious hold, years of arguing with people that it was a dirty, misguided, anti-feminist moniker that was applied too freely and, in my case, I insisted, inappropriately. A Zionist-feminist friend of mine used to scold those who used the term in casual conversation, saying, "If you want to get across the idea that someone is spoiled, then call them an AP," she seethed. "Don't make their religion part of it." Her polemic got her nowhere; most people laughed it off, told her she was too sensitive and then started right in again tossing the term back and forth as an all-inclusive description for suburban Jewish girls like me.

The term is haunting me again -- in the person of a former intern. Admit it -- you think Monica is a JAP. Since the beginning of the scandal, Monica's ethnicity has defined part of her persona. First, her name is conspicuous. There's no denying your roots with a mouthful of Eastern European Jewish etymology like Lewinsky (or Leibovich). The ethnic stereotype is bolstered by the fact that her father is a wealthy, politically liberal Beverly Hills doctor and her mother is a flashy woman of means with whom she has shared a no-boundaries relationship.


By any standards, Monica lives a life of luxury, lunching at the Ritz-Carlton, residing at one of the toniest Washington, D.C., addresses, the famed Watergate building. Her immaculate designer suits, manicured hands and remarkably bouncy and shiny hair (think Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless") only crystallize her JAP image. When the famed semen-stained dress made the news, a friend of mine quipped, "I bet she was psyched that the dress was from the Gap and not Neiman Marcus." When her former lawyer, William Ginsburg, announced to the press that, after being sequestered, Monica was anxious to get to a hairdresser, the princess persona was publicly unveiled. And in the infamous Vanity Fair photo spread, Monica was suggestively served up as a Yentl-Lolita, with an enormous diamond ring gracing her stubby finger. As she stood at the center of a national crisis, all the girl wanted was a makeover. Her glam shots, allegedly taken to bolster her self-esteem, only made her look like a spoiled, well-kept bimbo.

Any woman who grew up Jewish and has had the term "JAP" hurled at her recognizes the stereotype in what we know about Lewinsky. The term "Jewish American Princess" is being bandied about, alongside "slut," "nut" and "bitch," when our conversation turns (and when doesn't it?) to Monica. Taken together, the external, superficial signs of her princessdom -- she is affluent, well-coiffed, zaftig and spends a lot of time on the phone -- and her cunning, manipulative streak, documented in the Starr report and the Tripp tapes, may well tarnish the image of Jewish women everywhere.

In the Starr report, Lewinsky admits that she asked the president to find her a good job, one she wouldn't have to work for: "I just want it to be given to me." With that, Monica fulfilled the most insidious of the Princess stereotypes: the idea that she was entitled. She wasn't qualified for a high-paying, above-entry-level position, but no matter -- somehow, she felt she deserved one, perhaps because she was wronged by the president, or maybe because she was just used to getting her way. In either case, I'm reminded of my high school, where plenty of Jewish girls were mocked for the apathy that came with privilege. "She got into college because her father donated some building," they said of one Ivy League-bound girl. "How did she get an A in that class when all she does after school is shop?" they wondered about another Jewish classmate.


Add to Monica's entitlement the reports of her utter manipulation of the president toward the end of their relationship (when she threatened to reveal their affair if he didn't hook her up with a job), and the stereotype is even more fleshed out. Like the Philip Roth-ian Jewish mother who smothers her child to the point of suffocation, Monica wouldn't leave the president alone. She became obsessed. She threw a tantrum at the White House when she learned the president was visiting with another young woman. She complained about her placement at the Pentagon because it was too far away from her sweetie. And in an attempt to insinuate herself into the president's thoughts, she would arrive at his public events sometimes hours early to get a prime spot. This strategy makes me think of my grandmother, who, on big sale days, would arrive at Bloomingdale's an hour early so she would be the first one through the door. (To be fair, Monica also represents a more benign, nurturing Jewish mother. After all, she showered the president with gifts and even brought him food during the government shutdown. Perhaps this is the Semitic version of the Madonna-whore complex?)

In my high school -- and I can only imagine what it's like now with cell phones -- JAPs were known as serious gabbers, gossips. We all know that if it wasn't for Monica's big mouth and her Princess phone, we wouldn't be in this mess. Her endless conversations with anti-friend Linda Tripp reveal an enormous capacity for inane girl-talk about diets and shopping. Again reinforcing some of the most insidious stereotypes of Jews, Monica offers to buy Tripp's silence, saying she will sell her stake in a condominium and give Tripp the money if she will remain mum. And, last week, Oprah Winfrey turned down an exclusive interview with Monica because she demanded money for her story. (Roseanne -- who is also Jewish, by the way -- was ready to cough up $1 million or more to sit down with our fair lady Lewinsky, but the deal fell through Monday.)

The joke goes like this: How can you tell if a Jewish American Princess has an orgasm? She drops her nail file. According to the Starr report, Monica dropped her nail file -- so to speak -- twice during her sexual liaisons with the president. But with this, she finally defies one tenacious JAP stereotype -- that of the frigid lover. Monica was downright provocative, teasing the president with a peek at her thong underwear, grabbing his crotch in a meet-and-greet line, going down on him on demand. Perhaps this will be Lewinsky's great contribution to Jewish womankind, the emancipation of her sisters from their perceived state as neurotic prudes. To wit, this month's Cosmopolitan boasts the cover line "His Sexual Moan Zones: Bedroom Tricks Even Monica Lewinsky Doesn't Know About." The boys I grew up with used to joke that Jewish girls had the biggest breasts -- if you were lucky enough to cop a feel. They also said that while JAPs might go down on them, these girls were spitters, not swallowers. To swallow was too dirty, too messy, too risky. Obviously, they never met Monica.

Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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